INTERVIEW WITH AMBASSADOR LUCIUS BATTLE-16/1/97
INTERVIEWER: Ambassador Battle, if I can start by asking you about the nationalist China lobby in the United States in the 1940s, or just before the Korean War - how powerful was it, how important was that lobby?
AMBASSADOR LUCIUS BATTLE: It became very important. The China lobby became extraordinarily important. It goes back originally to the different attitudes you will find on the west and in the east of the United States; it goes back to World War II particularly. A great many people felt in the west coast that China, Asia, that was the important world. Now the east coast was all focused on Europe. So (it was somewhat?) spread in the country, in terms of the area of interest. This was somewhat sealed after Pearl Harbor, but the strategy of the war reflected to some extent the concern of the people in this, as to whether we took on Europe or whether we tried to clean up the Pacific, or whatever. And so that was a grouping... the China lobby in the main was made up of Westerners, and people like Senator Nolan and one or two others were the leaders of it. They had interests, economic interests, that sort of thing. It built up into a very important group of people, and it was aided and abetted by the anti-communist attitude which grew and grew and grew, and as Truman's Europe became one full of criticism of him and of the other top people for the policy toward China, the China lobby became increasingly important.
INT: Can you describe the sense of the loss of China, when China became communist in 1949? Amongst the US Administration, what was the mood?
LB: Well, the question of loss of China always seemed to me to be a little ridiculous. It was never ours to lose in the first place, and it was an exaggerated sort of a period of... in terms of attitude about communism, so that somehow anything that any country that internally changed its own order and went in a direction we didn't approve of, it was our fault, it was the fault of the United States Government and usually blamed on the State Department. This was the frequent whipping boy. And so that when China fell and Chiang Kai-shek left, although his collapse was... he was not exactly overthrown, he just sort of disappeared, he fell apart, it was not that he was overthrown by anyone particularly: he moved out because he saw his day was over, and he still had enormous military power... and there was concern, deep concern in the State Department, but I never felt it was ours to lose, and therefore that phrase, "the loss of China", which haunted us and had a lot to do with the attitudes on Vietnam... I remember Lyndon Johnson said, "What happened to Truman and the loss of China will not happen to me in Vietnam," and this has influenced us a great deal. But it's an exaggerated attitude that it was ours to lose. The world was changing and we didn't... a lot of it came as a result of World War II and a lot of other factors. But we were not keen enough to realise, and sensitive enough to realise that these things were inevitable. Everything became black or white, and that was... it had to be either anti-communist or it was (.?.) communist, you know. This was the attitude.
INT: But nevertheless, at the time was there a sort of mood of gloom that the Cold War was becoming unwinnable, or at least worse?
LB: I don't think the Cold War was becoming unwinnable at that point. There was a feeling, I think, that... in the State Department, that there was a change in the Far East that was going to occur, that we would... most of us, the more intelligent China analysts, the Chinese experts that we had, I think were very balanced in their approach to it. But that was what the public attitude could not accept; balance was a little bit out of character at that time. There was... it was violently anti-communist… anybody who didn't seem to conform to our way... shape... we wanted to shape the world. I don't think there was ever any feeling that we were going to lose the Cold War in Europe. I think that was the Marshall Plan particularly that seems to have changed that. There was real concern, but the Cold War was, we felt, I think, manageable; we felt we'd be living with it for a long time, and we did, but I don't think we ever had the sense that we were losing it.
INT: Was there a feeling, though, that the odds were increasing, because the Soviet bloc or the communist bloc had suddenly grown a lot larger?
LB: Well, the attitude as to whether they were increasing in size and strength depended a little bit on whom you spoke with. We were concerned, yes, we were deeply concerned about the growing strength in Asia, some of the communist parties that were emerging there. We were disturbed about the failure to come to satisfactory solutions to Japan's economic problems, other things of that sort, but that we really... I don't think at any point we gave up on it. There was a concern, yes, there was real concern. The Philippines had to be rebuilt, reshaped; there were a whole series of changes that had to be dealt with, and it was costing a lot more money than anybody had realised. But there was a determination afoot and that were going to win these situations, and when faced with these challenges, and I think we did.
(B/g talk. Cut.)
(ANA'S NOTE: LABEL ON AUDIO CASSETTE SAYS THAT BEGINNING OF PRESS CLUB ANSWER IS MISSING - 20 SECS APPROX.)
LB: It somehow didn't come off. The night before the speech was to occur, I went over to Acheson's house. Dean Rusk was there; Walt Butterworth, who was assistant secretary for the Far East, was there; and I think Marshall Schulman was there; and we worked until well into the evening, and finally Mr Acheson said, "I don't like what we've written here. I'm going to do this through notes, I'm going to do it myself," and he turned to me and he said, "Luke, I will not come into the office tomorrow. If you need me, come out here," and he said, "I will see you at the Press Club" - that was to me. So I had no copy of the text, I did not know what he was working on; he'd done all by notes himself. And he prepared an outline - it was a masterful speech, and the speech was to define what our policy was to be to China and to the area. In so doing, he defined parameters in which he set our... there were certain areas, such as the Philippines, where we would go to war immediately were it attacked; there were other areas we would go to the UN, etc. He was defining these several areas of interest. And at the time the speech was made, there was ... no attention was paid at all to the parameter speech, to that portion of the speech. It was only after the Korean War occurred and things went sour in Korea, that people began to dig out that speech. I remember the Secretary said to me once: "Luke, what did we say, what did I say?" So I pulled it out, and he said, "Let's re-read it again. Suddenly this has emerged as a major issue." And we read the portion with respect to the parameters, when he said, "Well, it's exactly what we did: we did not... we went to the UN." So he felt that in effect the speech had not done what many critics felt that it had done, and that was invite Korea to attack ... North Korea to attack South Korea. I don't think the evidence that has come forth over the years since then is persuasive at all that that was the case. I think the attack occurred; it was probably... that may have been a factor in it, but I doubt it.
INT: There was mood to change the perimeter that Acheson described even before the start of the Korean War, wasn't there? Wasn't there this thing, NSC 68, which was about changing the perimeter?
LB: Well, the NSC 68 has become a cottage industry of sorts. It was never... (Laughs) It was a document that was overtaken by time; it was really a broad, general, sweeping definition of what US policy had to be in the face of the Cold War that was coming, and we were really already there, and particularly the difficulties that we faced in Europe and in Asia. And it was never costed out, iwas never really... it was postponed, action on it was postponed; it was never turned down, but neither did it really become policy.But I think it interpreted the thoughts of a lot of people in the Department of State primarily, and indeed in the Government at that time, but it caused a great deal of division. NSC 68 was not a document that was accepted by... George Kennan, for example, did not think it was the right course: he thought it was overdone and grossly exaggerated the threat. Paul Nitze, who actually wrote most of the NSC 68, thought it was the right course. So even within the Department there were very strong differences of view with respect to it. But the NSC, for some reason, has sort of haunted the past and comes out constantly. I cannot tell you how many times I've been approached by writers, historians, whatever, talking about NSC 68, as though it was some masterful policy. It was in a sense a direction of policy, but it was never costed out, it was never really implemented in its entirely, and it was overtaken by the Korean War.